NFC South: 2013 Week 4 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Saints 38, Dolphins 17

September, 30, 2013

NEW ORLEANS -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 38-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins, which moved the Saints to 4-0.

What it means: The Saints were off to a great start even before their potent passing offense really got going. Then they exploded Monday night against the previously-unbeaten Dolphins. The Saints still need to find their run game, but it sure looks like quarterback Drew Brees and dynamic playmakers Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles and Marques Colston are in peak form, which makes the Saints bona fide Super Bowl contenders again. The Dolphins have a solid defense, but they couldn’t figure out how to contain all of those guys.

Brees adds to legacy: Brees completed 30 of 39 passes for 413 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. In the process, he passed Fran Tarkenton for sixth place on the NFL’s all-time passing yardage list (now with 47,353). Brees also tied his own NFL record with nine consecutive 300-yard passing games. And he continued a ridiculous run of “Monday Night Football” dominance. He and the Saints now have a nine-game MNF win streak in which he’s thrown 28 touchdown passes and just five interceptions.

Stock watch: Sproles was a monster Monday, with seven catches for 114 yards, four runs for 28 yards and two touchdowns (though he ended on a low note with a late fourth-quarter fumble). Sproles was contained a bit in 2012 by injuries and constant bracket coverage from opposing defenses. But he offered the Dolphins a painful reminder that they can’t leave him in single coverage. While Miami was focused on containing Graham at tight end, Sproles got all 114 receiving yards and both of his TDs before halftime.

Defensive assist: For the first time this season, the Saints’ revamped defense took a back seat to the offense -- but only barely. Two huge first-half turnovers helped New Orleans break the game open (a forced fumble by linebacker Curtis Lofton and an interception by cornerback Jabari Greer). Both led to touchdowns. A first-quarter third-and-1 run stuff by defensive tackle John Jenkins was also big. And in the second half, the Saints started piling on the sacks.

What’s next: The Saints leave the comfort of home the next two weeks with treacherous road games at the Chicago Bears (3-1) and the New England Patriots (4-0). The Saints struggled in their only other road game this year, at Tampa Bay in Week 2. These next two games will tell a lot about their makeup -- and could help determine if they get to play at home during the playoffs.

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 30, Falcons 23

September, 29, 2013
ATLANTA -- A few thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 30-23 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday night:

What it means: The Falcons now find themselves in unfamiliar territory -- on the outside looking in. Since 1990, only 9 percent of teams have made the playoffs after a 1-3 start. One of those 22 teams (out of 258) was the 2002 Falcons, who finished 9-6-1 and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in a divisional playoff game after beating the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card game. But this Falcons team has a tall task, with teams such as the Seattle Seahawks, the Packers and the San Francisco 49ers still remaining on the schedule. And the Falcons were supposed to be a Super Bowl favorite.

Stock watch: If there was a bright spot in the loss, it was the play of tight end Tony Gonzalez. He indirectly lobbied for more touches leading up to the game and responded with 12 catches for 149 yards. His showing included seven catches for 90 yards in the first half and a 21-yard touchdown before halftime on which he shook a falling defender. Gonzalez, who added a second score late, was Matt Ryan's primary target on a night when Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib locked up Julio Jones. If only Gonzalez could play defense.

In the zone: The Falcons got off to a bad start in terms of red zone efficiency, driving down to the Patriots’ 5-yard line on their first possession, then settling for Matt Bryant’s 23-yard field goal. Ryan overthrew Roddy White on fourth-and-2 from the Patriots’ 7-yard line. Then Ryan was sacked on third-and-5 from the Patriots’ 18, causing the Falcons to settle for another field goal. In other words, an offense that needed to improve its red zone efficiency struggled once again.

Run down: The Falcons actually performed well against the run the first three games, surrendering just 79 yards per game to rank fifth in the league. Then they imploded against the Patriots and got gashed. No run was more significant than LeGarrette Blount’s 47-yard touchdown sprint that was the final difference. With injuries mounting at linebacker for the Falcons, other teams might follow the Patriots’ lead and run the ball down against the Falcons.

Line shuffle: Sam Baker returned to the starting lineup at left tackle after missing last week with a knee/foot injury. The Falcons opted to keep Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle and benched Lamar Holmes. Well, Holmes was right back in the lineup after Baker exited the game with a left knee injury and didn’t return. Baker picked up two bad penalties before going down. If Baker’s injury isn’t serious, it will be interesting to see how the Falcons proceed at tackle moving forward.

What’s next: The Falcons face the struggling New York Jets on "Monday Night Football" on Oct. 7 at the Georgia Dome. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons are 1-3 on Monday night, 10-24 all time.

Rapid Reaction: Cardinals 13, Bucs 10

September, 29, 2013
A few thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 13-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.

What it means: You can change quarterbacks, but not results. Rookie Mike Glennon started in place of Josh Freeman and looked adequate for most of the game. But Glennon was intercepted with 3:12 remaining to set up Arizona’s tying touchdown. The Bucs, who controlled the game most of the way before squandering a 10-0 lead, are 0-4, and it’s pretty clear their problems go well beyond the quarterback. Coach Greg Schiano is officially on the hot seat.

So much for the defense: The Tampa Bay defense was outstanding much of the day. But two fourth-quarter turnovers gave the Cardinals prime field position, and the defense couldn’t hold up.

Suspension time? Safety Dashon Goldson appealed a previous one-game suspension and won. But he probably won’t be as lucky this time around. Goldson was called for a personal foul that set up the winning field goal. He probably will get a suspension, because he is very much on the NFL’s radar.

Stock watch: Rising -- Kicker Rian Lindell entered the game on the hot seat after missing a field goal attempt in each of the previous two games. He put himself back on good footing with a 50-yard field goal.

Stock watch: Falling -- The one thing the Cardinals did well was bottle up Doug Martin. They put a lot of defensive focus on Martin, and he wasn’t able to do much. Martin also lost a fourth-quarter fumble that led to an Arizona field goal.

Demps’ debut: Recently signed running back Jeff Demps got his first playing time of the season. Demps had a 14-yard run in the first quarter, three kickoff returns and a catch out of the backfield for 8 yards.

What’s next: The Buccaneers have a bye week. They’ll return to action Oct. 13 at home against Philadelphia.